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U.S. government demands records on anti-Trump account, Twitter sues to stop it

Twitter says free speech rights are at stake.


Lauren L'Amie


Twitter is suing the Trump administration after it attempted to compel the social media site to unveil the identity of an anonymous account.

According to the lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of California Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sent Twitter a summons demanding that the social media site reveal the identity of the user behind @ALT_uscis, an anonymous Twitter account that has been routinely firing off tweets criticizing the U.S. Customs and Immigrations Enforcement (ICE) and President Donald Trump’s immigration policies since Inauguration Day. Twitter cites the free speech rights of itself and the user in its attempt to block the administration’s request.

Just after Trump’s inauguration, anonymous anti-Trump accounts began to appear across Twitter. @AltUSDOJ identifies itself as “the unofficial #resistance team covering the U.S. Department of Justice,” and tweets primarily about matters concerning the Supreme Court and U.S. House and Senate. @RogueEPAstaff is “resisting efforts to take the science out of EPA.”

@ALT_uscis is one among many accounts that purport to be fronted by former or current members of federal agencies, though these claims aren’t verified. The Department of Justice, which typically represents the government in such cases, and the Department of Homeland Security declined multiple media requests for comment.

“The Supreme Court has long recognized the extraordinary value of the kind of speech emanating from these accounts—pure political speech criticizing government policies and highlighting government waste and mismanagement,” Twitter’s suit states. “And the Court has likewise recognized that anonymity is often essential to fostering such political speech where, as here, the speaker could face retaliation or retribution if his or her real identity were linked to the speech.”

Twitter is asking the court to declare that the summons, which was sent via fax from the DHS to Twitter, be declared “unlawful and unenforceable because it violates the First Amendment rights of both Twitter and its users by seeking to unmask the identity of one or more anonymous Twitter users voicing criticism of the government on matters of public concern.”

Thursday afternoon, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced its support of Twitter “pushing back” and defending the right to anonymity for accounts like @ALT_uscis.

As Twitter prepares to go to bat for free speech, the anonymous voices behind @ALT_uscis and other “alt” accounts are adding to their already substantial online following.

H/T The Intercept

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